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What Would People Think?

Friday, January 20, 2006

"I Came, I Saw, I Did Whatever The Heck I Wanted"

Crown prince of political animation Mark Fiore presents a picture of where we are headed if the President's assertions of unlimited executive power stand.

On a brief aside, my dear friend Chris Pryor said this to me in a recent e-mail, regarding my (likely futile) call to impeach George Bush:

I think the impeachment line has to be drawn somewhere, but if it's not in advance of defiling the oval office and perjuring yourself, I'm not sure it can be drawn in advance of what Bush has done, for better or worse.

I draw the line at claiming you are above the law. The worst that can be said for Clinton is that he broke the law. Perhaps that should be enough. Perhaps it depends on the law being broken. Bush is far worse: he claims he does not have to follow the law. The moment we have one law for the "Ruler" and another law for the "Ruled" is the moment we are no longer a democracy. That is the moment when the President becomes the Elected King.

Unlike some lefties, I don't use the word "impeach" lightly. I really fear the extensive powers Bush has claimed.


  • Your friend needs to keep in mind that the Constitution reserves impeachment for the commission of "high crimes and misdemeanors" - that is, not just any crime is an impeachable offense. To me, impeachment should be reserved for those whose crimes are so severe that they threaten the very fabric of the American state. Misleading the country into war is not a crime (sadly), and lying under oath about an extramarital affair does not affect our country's governance. However, the President's illegal wiretapping is a crime that threatens the traditional balance of power among branches, and thus must be considered a threat to American-style governance.

    And "defiling the Oval Office?" Come on. It's an office, not a temple. If Clinton's the first President to get busy in the Oval Office, I'll be shocked and amazed.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 1/20/2006 3:56 PM  

  • Jeff, I'm with you on the legal analysis. The Administration (probably with the best of intentions) is on a crash course to destroy democracy.

    As for "defiling the Oval Office", I'm with Chris. I've told you before that I find oral sex degrading, but entirely apart from that...Adultry is a disgusting act, a sin against God and a kick in the face to the spouse (the person whom the adulterer swore a lifelong commitment). To my mind a person committing adultry would be defiling a strip club, much more the Oval Office.

    That said, it's not an impeachable offense. It's not even a crime. It has nothing to do with the system of governance and how the President governs the nation. Clinton's adultry is a matter between him, Hillary, Monica (and others), and God. Neither Ben Stark, nor Chris Pryor, nor [fill-in-the-blank] is one of the aforementioned parties.

    By Blogger Ben, at 1/20/2006 4:36 PM  

  • Gentlemen-
    This is a pretty good discussion, so I'll weigh in briefly. My remark for Ben was casual and unexplained, so I'll clarify a little. Obviously this is an old debate that the framers thought about when they put in the phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors." They knew that any impeachment would put the nation through upheaval and pause other legislative considerations and foreign policy issues. Everything would be focused on the impeachment.
    So impeachment is reserved for something big, I agree. I like the definition too, "crimes so severe that they threaten the fabric of the American state." I would definitely consider what the crime is and how it affects the nation. I do think that factors that threaten governance are a little broader in my analysis.
    Things can affect the nation without directly affecting a great number of citizens. For instance, if the president were to commit murder or armed robbery. Few citizens are directly affected, but many citizens will lose their trust in the president and foreign leaders will not respect him either. Good or bad, the president's conduct reflects on the nation as a whole. And everyone wants the president to be an example for how a citizen should live. That's what a leader is for.

    So to me, there are various crimes that could fit under "high crimes and misdemeanors," not simply those that directly relate to the president's duties as executive.
    What Clinton did with committing adultery and lying under oath affected our national reputation and the public's perception of the presidency. If your wife can't trust you, a judge can't trust your our oath to tell the truth in a legal proceeding, and you disregard your duty to follow the ethical rules of your profession as a lawyer, it's tough to earn and keep the trust of citizens and foreign leaders. Mr. Clinton was even disbarred, which takes quite a bit. In the process, his untruthfulness has been followed by many corporations and individuals. It gets tougher to teach kids that lying is wrong, too. Our legislators decided what he did wasn't impeachable, but is certainly very harmful to the nation, both at home at abroad, since adultery and immodesty are disfavored in many places. So I think the harm was pretty great.

    I'm still thinking through the potential harm of this president's actions. I would need to hear more to be convinced that the impact of what Bush has done is greater than what Clinton did. Certainly there is a place to reconsider our benchmarks and what we society considers serious has changed over time. Perhaps at some point people will feel that both should have been impeached. Right now, under my thinking on high crimes and misdemeanors, I wouldn't vote for impeachment of Bush or buy that democracy is on the brink because of this wiretapping. Maybe as I read more or as further information comes out, I'll consider that a little more. I wouldn't condone disregard for the law by either man, but impeachment is a very serious proposition, especially when there are threats abroad that demand executive attention, even if the executive attends them imperfectly.

    By Anonymous Chris Pryor, at 1/21/2006 5:18 PM  

  • In my mind there's a definite qualitative difference between Clinton's crime of perjury and Bush's crime of warrantless wiretapping (assuming, for the time being, that both actions were illegal. We will ignore Clinton's adultery since, despicable as it may be, it was not illegal). Clinton's perjury was not an abuse of presidential power. He lied on the stand about his personal life. Had he committed perjury with respect to his administration's policy or actions, we'd be in a whole different barrel of bananas. As it is, he was a man attempting to save a marriage from his own weaknesses as a person. I don't buy that Clinton's actions had an effect on our country's moral fabric either - "don't lie" is still pounded into kids' heads from an early age (or should be). What's more, his perjury had no effect on his or others' ability to govern.

    (Also, had Clinton been jailed, we'd be in a different situation as well, it being tough to run a country from a jail cell.)

    Bush's (alleged) crime, though perhaps more noble, is far more serious from that standpoint. Our country relies on the principle that the executive is bound by laws made by the legislature and interpreted by the judiciary. The problem is less that Bush broke the law and more in the fact that, in breaking the law, he has usurped for the executive powers that are specifically reserved for the Congress in the Constitution.

    Clinton, on the other hand, did not claim it was the executive's right to perjure himself. That, I think, is the biggest difference.

    It's late, I'm rambling, I'm going to bed.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 1/22/2006 12:05 AM  

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